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India alarmed at Bhutan-China border agreement

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China and Bhutan have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a Three-Step Roadmap to help speed up long delayed boundary talks, The MoU was signed during a virtual meeting held on Thursday.

The roadmap signed by Bhutan and China towards resolving their longstanding boundary dispute could have strategic implications for India's northeastern flank, according to the Turkish news agency TRT.

The Bhutan-China agreement was met with a cautious reaction from India, a development which could have strategic implications for New Delhi moving forward.

"We have noted the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Bhutan and China today. You are aware that Bhutan and China have been holding boundary negotiations since 1984. India has similarly been holding boundary negotiations with China," said Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi at a media briefing.

The signing of the pact came four years after the Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a 73-day stand-off at the Doklam tri-junction after China tried to extend a road in the area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it.

Bhutan shares an over 400-km-long border with China and the two countries have held over 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Thursday's agreement comes amid a continuing standoff between India and China in several friction points in eastern Ladakh.

Depending on how negotiations proceed, it may end up presenting a number of security concerns for India. "The MoU has strategic significance for India's national security in a region that connects the Indian mainland to the northeast," Aravind Joshi, a researcher in South Asian security affairs with Global Risk Intelligence, told TRT World.

Bhutan maintains strong economic, strategic, and military relations with India. In August 1949 India and Bhutan signed a Friendship Treaty under which India controlled Bhutan's foreign policy. In 2007 India and Bhutan signed another Friendship Treaty which said Bhutan and India "shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other." Tellingly India allows 16 entry and exit points for Bhutanese trade with other countries except China.

The Global Times

Tellingly, the Chinese Communist Party media the Global Times reported the China-Bhutan agreement under the title: MoU on China-Bhutan boundary talks 'breaks deadlock caused by India, paves way for diplomatic ties'

The MoU is of historic significance and is the result of years of joint efforts and sincere cooperation between the two sides,the Global Times quoted analysts as saying and noting that it points out the direction for breaking the current deadlock and laying a foundation for the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Bhutan.

Unlike what it did in the Doklam standoff in 2017, India may have less chances or excuses to make troubles over border areas when there is significant improvement on boundary talks between China and Bhutan, and it may choose to set blockades for Bhutan and China when the negotiations enter the crucial period, experts warned.

Bhutan is one of two countries that have land boundary issues unsolved with China, but signing the MoU is significant as it represents a big step forward for the two countries in solving the issues, Wang Shida, deputy director of the South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania Research Institute of Contemporary International Relations Research Academy of China, told the Global Times.

The boundary issue between China and Bhutan is special because it not only relates to Bhutan but also has become a negative factor for China-India ties. Unsolved China-Bhutan boundary issues were used as an excuse by India to attack China during the Doklam standoff in 2017. If China and Bhutan make progress in solving boundary disputes, India will have fewer chances and excuses to make troubles on border areas, said Wang Shida.

India has always been the reason for the delay in negotiations on boundary issues between China and Bhutan. After previous rounds of talks, the two sides have reached a consensus on some issues, but India believes these would undermine its interests, especially about the western section of the China-Bhutan border, which India thinks could pose a threat to the Siliguri Corridor, Wang Se, an assistant professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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